Celebrity Trustworthiness Key To Enhancing Brand Credibility Through Endorsements

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The Journal of Advertising Research recently published a study conducted by UT-Austin and National Taiwan Ocean University. “Enhancing Brand Credibility via Celebrity Endorsement: Trustworthiness Trumps Attractiveness and Expertise”.

The lead researchers are Angeline Close Scheinbaum, Ph.D., Associate Professor at The University of Texas at Austin and Stephen W. Wang, Ph.D., Professor of Marketing at the Department of Shipping and Transportation, College of Maritime Science and Management, National Taiwan Ocean University.

Angeline Close Scheinbaum, breaks down the study and its findings.

Q: Can you provide us with a brief summary of the methodology?

The research was conducted by the authors directly, utilizing a self-reported survey, with a 5-point Likert-type scale. The survey was distributed at a large international airport in Taiwan based on a convenience sampling method.

The survey yielded a 91 percent response rate (637 out of a total of 700 questionnaires) from those who agreed to participate, due to the in-person sampling procedure.

Response rates were likely bolstered by the fact that passengers in an airport are typically waiting and more open to completing a short survey, as well as the in-person method of requesting their participation.

Q: What is the premise of the research (what question were you trying to answer?)

We had noticed a trend in the global airline industry to utilize celebrity endorsements in ads. Therefore, from a scholarly perspective, we wanted to explore whether these celebrity endorsements truly “work” for brands, and if, so how.

Whereas past studies often have focused on one or two components of source credibility theory, we tested three—expertise, trustworthiness, and attractiveness—and their impact with consumers on brand attitude, brand credibility, and purchase intention for endorsed brands. A secondary objective was to examine how consumer involvement intensifies these relationships.

Q: Why airline branding? Why global? 

In order to best analyze the impact of celebrity endorsement, especially trustworthiness, we selected an industry where trust would be inherently important, like air travel. Celebrity endorsements in the airline industry are prevalent internationally, which made a global approach more appropriate.

Trustworthiness of the endorser was a primary focus of this research, and celebrity endorsement is more often seen for products like clothing, soft drinks, perfume, or make-up, where trust in advertising may not be quite as important as in the airline industry.

The international nature of the airline sector and the use of celebrity endorsers on a global scale also enabled deeper findings in a broader context than just looking at American brands, often endorsed by American celebrities.

Q: What are the key findings and takeaways of the research? Why do you think trustworthiness trumps attractiveness & expertise?

Our research revealed that trust is of paramount importance, especially in the context of airline branding. A trustworthy endorser can help make this perception stronger. Of course, a brand must already be seen as trustworthy—safe, reliable, dependable—for the endorser to strengthen that perception, as advertising is not purported to do this alone. When a consumer believes that a source is trustworthy, he or she also assumes that the communicated message is highly believable.

For those airline consumers that had low involvement with the airline sector, endorser trustworthiness is the only component of source credibility theory that ranked as important. However, for those that are highly involved in airline travel, endorser attractiveness was an important factor.

Regardless of involvement, airline consumers’ perception of a celebrity endorser’s attractiveness and trustworthiness lift brand attitude and brand credibility, which leads to purchase intention.

Q: What can brands learn from this research and how it applies to advertising campaigns?

Having a celebrity endorser can make advertising campaigns more effective and have a positive influence among consumers. However, when choosing a celebrity endorser in their advertising campaigns, especially international ones, we recommend brands do their due diligence and choose one that their consumers find both trustworthy and attractive. This will have the highest impact on the brand and ultimately on sales.

Brands should also take the involvement of their target audience into consideration when looking to integrate celebrity endorsement. This may be a more effective way of segmenting their customers than the traditional business verses non-business traveler segmentation that is common in airlines.

Q: Can you differentiate between low-involvement & high-involvement?

For the purposes of this study highly involved customers were those that displayed more loyal buying behavior, including differences in age, education, yearly trips abroad, expense per trip abroad, whether they had seen the endorsed advertisement, whether they had been to the location in the advertisement, and knowledge of the location in the advertisement.

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